Del. Mark Levine (D-45th)

Del. Mark Levine (D-45th) in a photo from his campaign Web site.

Eradicate it. Terminate it. Eliminate it. Annihilate it. Erase it. Exclude it. Invalidate it.

It’s not difficult to see where Del. Mark Levine comes down on the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis gracing a major north-south highway through portions of Northern Virginia.

“It should change,” Levine (D-45th) told the Sun Gazette. “I don’t want that name.”

But, and he acknowledges this may be seen by some as inconsistent, Levine said he doesn’t have a problem with streets or other public areas across the local region named in honor of Robert E. Lee.

“I feel very different about Lee,” Levine said in an interview, describing him as “a hometown guy” whose life’s work should be respected.

Davis, on the other hand, was an out-of-towner (Levine first described him as a Texan but was gently corrected: Davis was born in Kentucky and grew to prominence in Mississippi). Unlike Lee, whose greatness in battle is not in doubt, Davis has gone down in history as something of a bureaucratic bungler. Perhaps most important, while Lee preached reconciliation after the war, Davis was essentially unrepentant to the end.

Levine’s district includes portions of both Arlington and Alexandria, which in the pre-Civil War days were one jurisdiction. The Lee family tree had deep roots in Alexandria, and Robert E. Lee, through marriage into the Custis family, obtained possession of the Arlington House plantation.

It was at Arlington House in 1861 that Lee decided to resign his commission in the U.S. Army. After hustling out of the local area – eventually taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia – Lee never returned to the mansion, which was seized by the federal government in a move later declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the war, Lee submitted an application for restoration of citizenship to President Andrew Johnson, and took the requisite loyalty oath. For reasons lost to history, the federal government never acted on it until 1975, when Congress and President Gerald Ford restored Lee’s full rights of citizenship, backdating it to June 13, 1865.

Long before that signing ceremony, however, Lee had entered the pantheon of American heroes. In 1925, Congress designated Arlington House as an official memorial to him, making Lee the only Confederate military or civilian leader so honored.

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